The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is making the case that because President Obama relaxed the rules for individuals whose health insurance plans were cancelled, making them exempt from fines, the President should allow religious organizations fighting against the implementation of the Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate on contraceptives to be exempt from the fines that were imposed starting at the beginning of the year. Religious employers, who feel that the mandate is in violation of their beliefs, have been fighting the implementation of the mandate from the beginning. But unless it is found that the mandate violates the First Amendment rights of these groups, they will be forced to either follow the mandate, or pay fines.
But telling a group that they must follow a law, when it clearly goes against their religious beliefs, is a blatant First Amendment violation. And imposing fees and fines on them for not complying is no better. These companies, schools, and organizations should all be granted an exemption from the law, but it is unlikely that will happen before the Supreme Court rules on the matter. A case has been brought against the mandate by Hobby Lobby, and will be heard by the Supreme Court in March. There have been numerous smaller cases that have been won, but the ruling by the Supreme Court should set precedence for the law, and allow all groups to choose whether they wish to follow the mandate or not, based on their religious belief system.
In the meantime, something needs to be done to allow these organizations to move forward, waiting for a ruling, while not having to pay fines. Penalizing a group while they wait for a ruling on the matter is unfair and the basis for the fines is unconstitutional. The religious beliefs of a man who runs a business based on those beliefs should carry the same weight as the religious beliefs of a church or other organized religious body. Forming an arbitrary distinction, as the government is doing, is picking and choosing who has the rights to religious freedom under the First Amendment.